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American Paintings and Sculpture
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Artist: Charles Fraser, American, 1782–1860
Artist verso: Unknown
Subject: Elizabeth Gaillard Gourdin, American, 1766–1835
Subject: Theodore Gourdin, American, 1764–1826

Elizabeth Gaillard Gourdin and Theodore Gourdin (1766–1835; 1764–1826)

1826; verso: 1813–15

Watercolor on ivory; verso: watercolor over graphite pencil on ivory

2 1/16 × 2 1/16 in. (5.2 × 5.2 cm) framed (H): 2 7/8 in.(7.3 cm)
Lelia A. and John Hill Morgan, B.A. 1893, LL.B. 1896, M.A. (Hon.) 1929, Collection
1940.501

The story of how these portraits came to be set back to back expresses the love of a wife for her husband. Charlestonian Theodore Gourdin, a wealthy land- and slave owner, married Elizabeth Gaillard in 1785. Family lore held that Charles Fraser—who came to be known as Charleston, South Carolina’s finest miniaturist—had painted both portraits, but only Elizabeth is listed in his account book. The stylistic distinctions between the portraits confirm that the more serene Theodore cannot be attributed to Fraser, whose characteristic energetic stippling is seen only in Elizabeth’s portrait. The shorter, choppier strokes in her portrait epitomize the artist’s style, while delicate hatchings, more elongated strokes, and graphite lines compose Theodore’s face. Fraser applied a single curved line to define the crease above Elizabeth’s eye; several strokes define the crease above her husband’s.

Theodore Gourdin may have commissioned his own likeness when he was away from his wife and children while serving as a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives between 1813 and 1815. Circular miniatures are generally associated with the European continent, suggesting that the artist who limned Theodore either was of French descent or had agreed to a circular format at the request of his patron, an assertion through style of Theodore’s French heritage. In 1826, the year Theodore died, his widow commissioned her portrait from Fraser and requested the unusual round format to match the earlier portrait of her husband. In commissioning her portrait immediately after her husband’s death and uniting both in the same locket, Elizabeth would again have found solace in her absent husband’s likeness, joined with hers as a tangible testament of their undying love. This double locket remained a token of remembrance, descending in the family through one of their sons.

Status: 
Not on view
Culture: 
American
Period: 
19th century
Classification: 
Miniatures - Jewelry
Provenance: 

Elizabeth Gaillard Gourdin and Theodore Gourdin; to their son Peter Gaillard Gourdin; to his daughter Martha Gourdin DeSaussure; to her daughter, Isabelle DeSaussure, 1911–ca. 1926; purchased by Lelia A. and John Hill Morgan, New York, by 1934; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn.

Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.